1 Corinthians 4:6-13
Pride. It’s one vice that, if it didn’t exist, the world would be a much nicer place. Can you imagine any sin that we commit that doesn’t have pride somehow involved in it? I can’t…you can run every sin down to pride if you look hard enough.
Pride keeps us from thinking that we need a Savior, or if we manage to think that we need a Savior, pride makes us think that we can earn his help in saving us. Overcoming our pride and kneeing humbly before the cross is what it takes for us to be saved and become Christians.
Christians, however, are not immune to pride. We can be like the Pharisees and proud of our spiritual growth. We can look at others and say, “I’m so impressed with how much better I am than they are! They hardly do anything right!”
It’s this spiritual pride that the Corinthian church was struggling with. It was, in fact, dividing them.
6 And these things, brethren, I have in a figure transferred to myself and to Apollos for your sakes; that ye might learn in us not to think of men above that which is written, that no one of you be puffed up for one against another. 7 For who maketh thee to differ from another? and what hast thou that thou didst not receive? now if thou didst receive it, why dost thou glory, as if thou hadst not received it? 8 Now ye are full, now ye are rich, ye have reigned as kings without us: and I would to God ye did reign, that we also might reign with you. (1 Corinthians 4:6–8)
We have talked how the Corinthian church was divided over matters like who was the best—Paul, Apollos, Peter. What was behind those divisions? It was pride, spiritual pride. These were…
I. CHRISTIANS FULL OF THEMSELVES
1 Corinthians 4:6 And these things, brethren, I have in a figure transferred to myself and to Apollos for your sakes; that ye might learn in us not to think of men above that which is written, that no one of you be puffed up for one against another.
“transferred” (μετεσχημάτισα)—Paul was teaching a lesson about not boasting in human teachers by using him and Apollos as examples. The Corinthians may have thought that Apollos was a better leader than Paul or vice-versa, but there was no such competition between Paul and Apollos themselves. He used him and Apollos as concrete examples that they could understand.
“that which is written”—Namely, that which is written in the scriptures, especially about boasting. Paul had already mentioned two—
19 For it is written, I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and will bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent. (1 Corinthians 1:19)
19 For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God. For it is written, He taketh the wise in their own craftiness. (1 Corinthians 3:19)
Paul says that they were not to be “puffed up for one against the another.” They were pridefully beating their chests and saying, “Well, I follow Paul” or “I follow Apollos;” probably just like how today we brag about driving a Ford or a Chevy or we just Dodge the issue.
We have a way of referring to a prideful person; we might say, “He’s so full of himself.” They are so full of themselves, there’s no room for anyone else in their thinking. They are right. They are superior.
A young woman asked for an appointment with her pastor to talk with him about a besetting sin about which she was worried.
When she saw him, she said, “Pastor, I have become aware of a sin in my life which I cannot control. Every time I am at church I begin to look around at the other women, and I realize that I am the prettiest one in the whole congregation. None of the others can compare with my beauty. What can I do about this sin?”
The pastor replied, “Mary, that’s not a sin [that you’re committing], why that’s just a [terrible] mistake!”
Mary was full of herself—in her case, she was prideful about her looks.
The Corinthian Christians were full of themselves. They thought themselves so wise that they could determine who the best apostle by their own human standards. Human wisdom tends to make people think that they are more deserving and worthy than they really are.
Paul addresses that very problem with the Corinthians in the next verse where he points out that…
A. They Thought They Deserved God’s Gifts
1 Corinthians 4:7 For who maketh thee to differ from another? and what hast thou that thou didst not receive? now if thou didst receive it, why dost thou glory, as if thou hadst not received it?
What is the answer to Paul’s question—“what hast thou that thou didst not receive?”—the answer is nothing. Everything that we have is ultimately given to us by God. Cry loudly about how you built this or earned that if you will, but that’s only your human pride trying to unseat God from the throne.
“now if thou didst receive it, why dost thou glory, as if thou hadst not received it?”—And if you received everything you have as gifts, then why do you boast in those things, as if you hadn’t received them as gifts, but were born with them? Why are you so puffed up about those things that you’ve received as gifts from God?
Later in 1 Corinthians, Paul will take time to straighten the them out on the issue of spiritual gifts, but maybe he’s already hinting about that here.
You can imagine someone with a spiritual gift—say tongues—boasting about how mature they are because of it. Paul’s saying, “If it was a gift, then why are you boasting as if it were something you earned?”
Whenever we treat a gift of God—a spiritual gift or a talent or even a possession—as something that we’ve deserved, we pridefully placed ourselves above God.
On one occasion Samuel Brengle, longtime revered leader of the Salvation Army, was introduced as “the great Dr. Brengle.” In his diary he wrote:
“If I appear great in their eyes, the Lord is most graciously helping me to see how absolutely nothing I am without Him, and helping me to keep little in my own eyes…
The axe cannot boast of the trees it has cut down. It could do nothing but for the woodsman. He made it, he sharpened it, and he used it. The moment he throws it aside, it becomes only old iron. O that I may never lose sight of this.”
Let us keep ourselves from thinking that we deserve God’s gifts to us. Another part of the Corinthian’s pride was that…
B. They Thought They Had Arrived Spiritually
This next verse did not make any sense to me until I understood that Paul was using sarcasm to make his point. Sarcasm is when you express disapproval by mocking someone.
We might argue with our spouse over buying something expensive and say, “Go ahead and buy it. We’re just drowning in money that we don’t know what to do with!”
Job, after listening to his friends tell him why he deserved the suffering he had encountered, sarcastically told them, “No doubt but ye are the people, And wisdom shall die with you” (Job 12:2). You’re the man! No one is smarter than you are!
Well, Paul sarcastically says to the Corinthians:
1 Corinthians 4:8 Now ye are full, now ye are rich, ye have reigned as kings without us: and I would to God ye did reign, that we also might reign with you.
Let’s paraphrase that verse: “You seem to think you’re full; you seem to think you are rich; you seem to think that you’ve reigned as kings without us—I wish to God that you really did reign, so we might reign with you!”
Some of the Corinthian Christians seem to have thought that they’ve already made it. They felt like that they had arrived spiritually. They were behaving as if they had no flaws themselves, that they had no more need to grow.
In short, they were like the Pharisee that Jesus described—
11 The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican. 12 I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess. (Luke 18:11–12)
Pride causes us as Christians to think that we’ve made it spiritually. We judge ourselves to be better than most of the other Christians that we know (and if someone does live a more holy life than we do, we pridefully judge them to be legalistic). We think that we’ve arrived spiritually.
We pridefully think that we are “full,” we are “rich,” we “reign.” In our pride, we believe that we’re good enough and stop growing.
The question is—is God content with where you are spiritually? Has he decided that you can stop growing?
Are you are Christian who is full of himself (or herself), or are you the opposite? Are you a Christian who is full of Christ?
II. CHRISTIANS FULL OF CHRIST
What does a person full of Christ look like? Paul describes him and the other apostles as quite the opposite of the proud Corinthians.
Listen to his description of himself and the other apostles—
9 For I think that God hath set forth us the apostles last, as it were appointed to death: for we are made a spectacle unto the world, and to angels, and to men. 10 We are fools for Christ’s sake, but ye are wise in Christ; we are weak, but ye are strong; ye are honourable, but we are despised. 11 Even unto this present hour we both hunger, and thirst, and are naked, and are buffeted, and have no certain dwellingplace; 12 And labour, working with our own hands: being reviled, we bless; being persecuted, we suffer it: 13 Being defamed, we intreat: we are made as the filth of the world, and are the offscouring of all things unto this day. (1 Corinthians 4:9–13)
If I give you a pail full of rocks and tell you to fill it with something else, what would you have to do in order to fill it?
It’s a well-known fact that before you can fill a container with something, you must make sure that it is first empty of whatever is in it. We learn this truth as toddlers, who insist on emptying the toy box so that they can sit in the box themselves.
To get full of Christ, you must be willing to empty yourself of you. That’s what I see that Paul and the other apostles did. They emptied themselves so that Christ could be in them. First, we see that they were…
A. Willing To Die For Christ
1 Corinthians 4:9 For I think that God hath set forth us the apostles last, as it were appointed to death: for we are made a spectacle unto the world, and to angels, and to men.
What a contrast to the to the bragging Corinthians! Paul describes him and the other apostles as prisoners of war.
In those days, a victorious army would return and parade down the street. At the end of this parade, back in the filth of the horse droppings, were the prisoners of war—being made a spectacle to the watching crowd (in Corinth, for example, the parade would end at the theater which held 18,000 spectators).
Paul said that the apostles were “made a spectacle to the world, and to angels, and to men”—the entire universe.
Ancient prisoners of war could expect either to become slaves or to be slaughtered. Paul says that he and the others “were appointed to death.”
Paul wasn’t in prison at the time that he wrote this letter—he had been imprisoned at times (see Acts 16:23), but he wasn’t at this moment—yet still he expected that he would one day die because of his commitment to Christ.
If any of this reminds you of the sufferings and crucifixion of the Lord Jesus, I am sure that Paul intended it to do so.
For Paul, he couldn’t be comfortable living a comfortable life while his Savior had a life that included such suffering and death. Sometimes I wonder if we 21st century Christians could ever grasp that truth.
They became full of Christ also because they emptied themselves by being…
B. Willing To Be A Fool For Christ
1 Corinthians 4:10 We are fools for Christ’s sake, but ye are wise in Christ; we are weak, but ye are strong; ye are honourable, but we are despised.
Here Paul is being sarcastic again. He doesn’t really think that the Corinthians are “wise in Christ,” only that they think that they are. Earlier in this letter, Paul stated his true opinion of their wisdom—
18 Let no man deceive himself. If any man among you seemeth to be wise in this world, let him become a fool, that he may be wise. (1 Corinthians 3:18)
For Paul, it’s better to be regarded a “fool for Christ,” then to be known among the worldly folk for being wise. A few verses down, he does say that the world regarded the apostles as nothing—
1 Corinthians 4:12b being reviled, we bless; being persecuted, we suffer it:
1 Corinthians 4:13 Being defamed, we intreat: we are made as the filth of the world, and are the offscouring of all things unto this day.
What does being a “fool for Christ” look like?
One way that being a fool for Christ is apparent in your life is when you don’t do what is considered “normal” by the world. If none of your unsaved friends think that you are ever weird or foolish because of your “religion,” then maybe your religion ain’t anything.
Recently, North Carolina legalized same-sex marriage. Because of that, six judges have stepped down because they did not want to violate their consciences by having to marry a gay couple. One of them said:
“It was something I had to do out of conscience, I felt like to perform same-sex unions would be in violation of the Lord’s commands, so I couldn’t do that.”
Other people will ridicule them for their stance, but that’s what it means to be a “fool for Christ.”
Being a “fool for Christ” means following God’s way even though it’s not the normal way in our culture—waiting until marriage to have sex (the Duggar girl waited until after she was married and in private before kissing her husband for the first time).
Are you a fool for Christ, or do you do what is considered “normal”?
Paul and the other apostles became full of Christ also because they emptied themselves by being…
C. Willing To Possess Nothing For Christ
1 Corinthians 4:11 Even unto this present hour we both hunger, and thirst, and are naked, and are buffeted, and have no certain dwellingplace;
1 Corinthians 4:12a And labour, working with our own hands:
I don’t think Paul was referring to any specific circumstances, but the general tenor of the life of an apostle. His life was that of possessing nothing. He did not have guarantees of food or water, clothing, or a place to live. Paul took Jesus at his word:
24 Then said Jesus unto his disciples, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. 25 For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it. (Matthew 16:24–25)
A.W. Tozer once referred to the blessedness of possessing nothing. When we have the attitude of possessing nothing, we realize that nothing that we have is actually ours—our gifts, abilities, treasures—not one really belongs to us.
Tozer said that to grow spiritually, one thing you have to do is to make a decision to own nothing. That doesn’t mean that you need to go out and sell all you have—although it might—but it does mean that you let go of your grip on your things.
John Wesley was an English evangelist in the 1700’s. One day a man came riding up to Wesley shouting, “Mr. Wesley, your house had burned to the ground!” Wesley paused, then replied, “No, the Lord’s house burned to the ground. That just means one less responsibility for me.”
Paul was the same way. The Corinthian Christians bragged about the riches that they had, but Paul was content to own nothing. It was, after all, how his Savior lived—
58 And Jesus said unto him, Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man hath not where to lay his head (Luke 9:58).
Paul didn’t want to live any better than his Savior did.
Somehow, Christianity has gotten to be pretty mechanical. In Mainline churches, you get baptized as an infant, and with minimal other personal involvement—you are good to go to Heaven.
But before you get prideful about how we don’t do what Mainline churches do—in Fundamental and Evangelical churches, you make a decision…raise your hand, come to the altar, say the Sinner’s Prayer…and you are good to go to Heaven. There you are…nothing else to it.
But salvation is about entering into a personal, life-changing, relationship with the Savior, Jesus Christ. It’s not supposed to be a mechanical, flip-this-switch-and-you’re-good-to-go type of thing.
How can you tell if you’ve only had a mechanical sort of salvation or if you are in a real relationship with the Lord Jesus?
Now, one response that people have when they are questioned if they have just a mechanical salvation (which, of course, isn’t a real salvation) is that they explode, “What! How dare you question my salvation!”
Well, folks, what is that? It’s spiritual pride. They are full of themselves.
But those in a real relationship with Jesus are different. They’re humble. They’re the first ones to admit that, while they know they are saved, they certainly haven’t grown in the Lord as much as they should have.
Are you like that? Think back over what we just covered—Are you…
A. Willing To Die For Christ?
B. Willing To Be A Fool For Christ?
C. Willing To Possess Nothing For Christ?
You might not say yes easily, you might struggle with it—that’s okay, we’re not perfect—but you want to say yes to all those.
It will be your deepest desire to empty yourself more so that more of Christ can fill you. It will be your greatest need—to be full of Christ.
 Galaxie Software, 10,000 Sermon Illustrations, (Biblical Studies Press, 2002).
 Robert J. Morgan, Nelson’s Complete Book of Stories, Illustrations, and Quotes, electronic ed., (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2000), 458.